Sweet Potato and Tatsoi Soup

sweet potato tatsoi soup | foodloveswriting.com

It’s hard to think that while this past Friday, November 2, was a day we’ll remember as the announcement of our little book, for many others, it’s part of the painful weeks of hurricane disaster recovery and rebuilding. This is always happening in life: pain and sorrow hand in hand, celebration smashed up against heartache, joy against grief.

Today, while I bring you sweet potato soup, for example, there’s someone else who doesn’t have a stove, or food, to cook with. While I nursed a cold this weekend, feeling pretty glum, someone else ran a marathon, feeling high on life. My friend’s baby girl was born two weeks before her grandma died. Even as I post these thoughts, on America’s Election Day, many of you have polls and campaigns on your minds, while, simultaneously, others of you don’t. The world is big.

tatsoi | foodloveswriting.com

We’re all dwelling in our own small worlds, inside this larger one, and we know it’s this way. It’s a hard thing to wrap your mind around, the enormity of so many people thinking so many things in so many places, and that’s why it’s often easier to focus on what’s in front of you. But there are times, I think, when we see a different reality, when someone reaches outside his or her immediate perspective and rejoices with someone else who’s rejoicing or weeps with someone else while he weeps.

We’ve seen it in the aftermath of the hurricane, as people send relief and donate to the Red Cross, Nashville Bloggers hold a bake sale and community dinners get organized by a ladies auxiliary in Pennsylvania.

I’ve seen it online in the food world, where bloggers regularly promote each others’ work and spread good content. Kristen at Dine & Dish and Sarah of The Vanilla Bean Blog are particularly good at this.

ingredient prep | foodloveswriting.com

I’ve seen it with our release of the ebook, as you guys have rejoiced with us in our celebration. Every comment, every Facebook share or like, every purchase, has felt like a huge, undeserved gift, and we’ve cherished it. People I’ve never met have emailed to tell me they bought the book. My brother-in-law got it on his iPhone. A girl I haven’t seen since college eight years ago told me that she couldn’t put it down. My friend Jacqui, one of the most gracious people I’ve ever known, wrote an incredibly thoughtful post about it.

It’s all kind of overwhelming, like a room full of wedding gifts or the gift of a Hawaii honeymoon, and when I sit here trying to think of what to say, I almost lose my voice.

We broke even by Sunday, making back everything we put into the book, financially speaking. Thank you. I was so afraid to do this ebook, so afraid that no one would buy it (or, worse, that people would buy it and it would be bad). I don’t tell you that to get your pity but to give you the truth. If you’re out there reading this and wonder about your own visions or dreams or book ideas in your head, I hope this can be the nudge for you to go after them.

sweet potato tatsoi soup | foodloveswriting.com

Sometime last month, I read an ebook called Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge. Like the book we would end up launching this past Friday, Create is a short, light read, the kind of thing you can breeze through in a dozen quick bursts of downtime or an hour or so of quiet. It’s just $2.99. And I mention it here because a few points Altrogge makes in it have been the kind of things to comfort my anxious mind before the book launched, when it launched, afterwards while we waited for some feedback, today while we consider what to do next.

Altrogge’s main point is that we are all creatives, every one of us; we were made this way. Some of us write and blog; others organize files or decorate houses or build houses or bake cakes; but we all create, somehow, something. You can sit on the sidelines because you’re afraid, or you can get out there on the court and do something. Sure, you might mess up, you might look ridiculous and you might completely fail. But, thing is, when you get out there and try, you are practicing and learning and getting better. You are developing your skill and you’re doing what you were made to do. You’re giving the other guys on the sidelines courage to mess up, too.

One of the biggest things I am learning about creative work is that while your work is yours, from a blog to a book to a mural, it is not you. That’s enormously freeing. We can make imperfect things and be willing to take chances and to get better over time, and we can let other people ignore or dislike what we’ve made while we do. What we make isn’t us; it’s a snapshot of where we’re at at a given moment. When we see this, when we stop being so afraid of what people will say about our work, we can start focusing on using our work to bless them—we can start looking outside our own small world and reaching into someone else’s.

That’s what I’ve hoped to do with the ebook, to get thinking outside my own insecurities and try writing what I know to be true.

What are you afraid to leap towards?*

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Spicy Roasted Vegetable Bisque

Curried Roast Vegetable Soup | FoodLovesWriting.com

October brought dark and stormy skies today, which is another way of saying it’s a good time for soup. We made this fiery version out of a heap of roasted vegetables recently, and while the corresponding recipe is posted at the bottom of this post, the truth is that making it is much more about a method than it is about a list of ingredients: roast a bunch of chopped vegetables in oil, simmer them in hot water, pureé, add milk, add seasonings, adjust.

The other truth is that, basically, this is how we cook most days.

Vegetables | FoodLovesWriting.com

See, let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that there are two main ways to approach recipes. (I have to say “for the sake of argument” in case any of those of you who are reading here today are the pesky, exacting sort [of which both Tim and I tend to be] and so, when you hear the words, “there are two main ways to approach recipes,” you can’t help it but your mind immediately begins making a case for why there are, in fact, actually at least six different ways to approach it, not two, and once you’ve realized that, you find it’s hard to hang in there through the rest of the paragraphs, having already deemed this post you’re reading to be written by an unworthy source. Listen, you just put those thoughts on hold a minute and rest easy because, right now, we are just talking about this for the sake of argument. Forehead unfurrowed, we continue.)

So let’s say one person gets a recipe, maybe like the one written in this post for an it’s-a-kick-in-your-pants soup, and she looks at her fridge and sees how her ingredients don’t match up with what’s needed and so, she either (a) saves the idea for another day when she’s able to buy everything listed or (b) abandons it altogether.

At the same time, another person gets the same recipe, understands the rough outline of what’s going on, and instead of following it to the letter, she instead pulls out all the carrots and onions, mushrooms, potatoes and zucchini lurking in her crisping drawers, and, experimenting, applies the same strategy to them.

One person caters to the recipe; the other, gets the recipe catering to her.

Soup + Fall Days | FoodLovesWriting.com

What’s the difference? Why is one person line-by-lining it and the other, just seeing instructions as a guide? For me, the biggest difference has been time—that incomparably valuable resource that is usually required to learn to do anything, be it speaking a language, riding a bike or handling basic HTML. Do you relate? Has it been that way for you? For me, cooking has been, and continues to be, all about practice, about trying over and over and over again in new ways and the same ways until, one day, you’re making roasted broccoli the way you drive a car, and you’re barely thinking about the way you’re waiting for the smell of crispy florets to tell you when they’re done. The progression from looking at a potato, thinking, how does this become French fries?, to pulling together a meal on the spot is not overnight, at least not for most of us, but usually, it comes.

In our life, Tim and I usually look in the fridge and opt for what’s easy, zucchini to roast and a salad to toss; leftover soup and garlic-rubbed toast; beets (roasted in the CSA apocalypse 2012) to top with goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts. There are times, of course, when we set to making something finer, something bigger, especially when we’ll be dining with guests, and some meals require more preparation, like soaking quinoa or slow-cooking pot roast or preparing a quiche.

But most nights, in our life, we’re throwing quick meals together—not from great skill but from practice, which is the kind of thing I wished I’d heard more often when I was just beginning and, to be honest, which I wish heard from food bloggers and home cooks and great chefs more often. Like a runner or a football player or a businessman, when it’s go time, we’re all mostly drawing on the years we’ve been trying—the failed frittatas and the terrible pie crusts and the cakes that turned gray.

When they happened, the failures were tragedies, but years later, they’re gifts.

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Homemade Chicken Soup

chicken soup

Last week, I spent the better part of two days holed up in my barely furnished room, watching TV on my laptop—because apparently, nothing says, Welcome to Nashville!, like a stomach bug that knocks every shred of every thing out of your body in the course of one evening—and the whole time, there was one thing I couldn’t stop thinking about: homemade chicken soup.

You know what I mean when I say homemade chicken soup, right? I don’t mean chicken soup from a can or even packaged chicken broth that you add vegetables to. I mean roast-your-own-chicken-and-turn-it-into-stock soup. The kind that is soothing and comforting. The kind that is loaded with nutrients. The kind that “puts vigor in the step and sparkle in love life” to quote folklore.

I’ve tried to make my own stock before with bad results. I actually remember an entire conversation Jacqui and I had about this: not enough flavor, not what we expected, what were we doing wrong? But it was just a month or two ago that I made it with great results: rich, flavorful, perfect for adding vegetables and rice to. Now this is kind of my go-to version, and exactly what I was craving. The key seems to be the same thing that changes relationships, careers, opinions, and experiences: time.

chicken soup

As soon as I had the strength to leave the house and visit a local grocery, I bought a chicken, a bag of carrots, a bag of celery, and an onion. And the next morning, I set to work, putting the chicken in the oven as soon as I woke up.

The carcass and pan drippings went into a pot that afternoon, covered with water and, here’s what’s so important: given hours and hours to cook down. By evening, that chicken-submerged water had become darker, thicker, much more akin to the stuff you expect to see when you think of chicken stock. And, most importantly, strained and combined with vegetables and shredded chicken, it was perfection: pure comfort in a bowl.

chicken soup

I ate it for three days straight.

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for this time of year (cream of asparagus)

april 11 grass

A couple Octobers ago, surrounded by golden maple leaves and whistling breezes and the smell of bonfires in barely twilight, I was walking out to my car with a guy from my Travel Writing class. Inhaling deeply, smiling while I did, I kept telling him, in probably five different ways, how much I loved it all—the season’s smells, its temperatures, how the leaves revealed their true colors, hidden from us the rest of the year. He listened, pretty politely I think, and then, when I’d reached a stopping point, he started talking about spring.

baby buds

I remember how his face changed, how his voice raised when he said green—all the different shades of green! the leaves and the grass and the trees! the newness of it all! I have to say, while I’ve always been an autumn girl: he got me thinking. And a few months later, when the spring he’d been waiting for arrived, I saw it with his eyes.

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